Trent Alexander-Arnold, while respectful and well rooted, has never been reticent about his ultimate ambition. The 18-year-old, born in West Derby, which houses Liverpool’s Melwood complex, has designs on being the captain of his boyhood club.
“One of the best all-round talents in Europe,” according to the Reds’ first-team development coach Pepijn Lijnders, took control of their destiny in the Champions League on Tuesday night.
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Straight out of the playbook of Steven Gerrard, whom he mirrored as a kid kicking about in the park, Alexander-Arnold bent in a decisive free-kick – equal parts precision and proficiency – to twist the first-leg of the play-off against Hoffenheim in Liverpool’s favour.
Having practiced and perfected his technique in training, Emre Can, Roberto Firmino and Alberto Moreno were happy to step back and let the Scouser step forward – a decision taken by Jurgen Klopp.
Philippe Coutinho, who would usually assume responsibility, was absent with a back injury and is pushing for a move to Barcelona.
So, it was over to the youngest member of Liverpool’s matchday squad.
After a tiny shimmy and two strides towards the ball, he struck a curling beauty over the wall and right into the far corner – Oliver Baumann attempted to motion towards it, but there was no need to squander his energy.
Alexander-Arnold introduced himself to the European audience with a swagger and surety that his idol, watching on as an analyst for the game, enthusiastically applauded.
That dose of excellence on 35 minutes was needed for the visitors at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, with Julian Nagelsmann’s men having given them several conundrums to solve defensively, especially down Liverpool’s left where a dysfunctional link-up between Dejan Lovren and Moreno was repeatedly exploited.
The former was penalised after he made contact with Serge Gnabry as the Spaniard was caught upfield trying to press Baumann with just 12 minutes played.
Andrej Kramaric’s weak effort from the spot was gratefully gathered by Simon Mignolet, who had a solid night considering the nervousness at times in front of him.
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Mohamed Salah wasted the opportunity to then put Liverpool ahead after Kevin Vogt ceded possession and Firmino fed the Egyptian, whose right foot let him down.
The encounter seemed to always be in the balance, with Sadio Mane again impressing for the Merseysiders and Alexander-Arnold ending the opening half as the most influential Liverpool player on the pitch.
The right-back made more passes (24), interceptions (4) and had more touches (41) than any of his team-mates heading into the interval.
After the break, Firmino – facing his former employers for the first time – Salah, Mane, and Lovren were presented with chances to kill the game off, while the hosts continued to test Klopp’s side – especially in the air.
Liverpool did double their advantage on 74 minutes when Gini Wijnaldum cleverly took a free-kick quickly, passing to the Brazil international, who fed substitute James Milner.
Afforded space, he tried to pick out Salah at the back post, but his cross was deflected in by Havard Nordtveit for an own goal.
The Reds looked to have the fixture stitched up, but Hoffenheim continued to pepper in dangerous diagonal balls.
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Alexander-Arnold tried to claim offside on one of those long switches, failing to heed the whistle, and Lovren was playing Mark Uth on.
The forward controlled the ball on his chest before finishing emphatically to force a tense closing minutes.
The late goal was no less than the Bundesliga side deserved on a night in which they suffered their first home defeat since May 2016.
Nagelsmann felt they “weren’t the worst team, but the less lucky team.”
Regardless of his error at the end, Alexander-Arnold was – as Klopp put it – Liverpool’s “little hero”.
“It’s a thing of dreams to make your European debut for your boyhood club,” the teenager said afterwards. “To mark it with a goal was really special for me as well.”
Hopefully, as with the other young Scouser that once had ambitions of wearing armband for Liverpool, there are many more glorious evenings to come for Alexander-Arnold on the continent.